Lonely Planet Writer

400 Italians and Swedes to swap lives for longevity research project

Scientists have long wondered why people in the Italian region of Cilento live longer than average. A new study hopes to find the answer – by initiating a massive exchange programme where people from Cilento swap lives with others from southern Sweden.

Cilento and Malmo residents to 'swap lives'
Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park – Capo Palinuro, the beach of buon dormie ‘Good Sleep’. Campania, southern Italy. Photo by Salvatore Laporta/ KONTROLAB/ LightRocket via Getty Images

Known for its ancient Greek temples, rugged countryside and beautiful beaches, the Cilento region is located around 150km south of Naples. Recently it has also become famous as an area where people live exceptionally long lives. The average life expectancy in the region is 92 for women and 85 for men, significantly longer than the average for Italy, which is 84 and 79 respectively.

Scientists conduct longevity study in Cilento
Parco Nazionale Del Cilento E Vallo Di Diano, Campania, Italy. Photo by Marka/ UIG via Getty Images

The Cilento region is not among Italy’s richest, and unemployment is high, but people there eat diets high in olive oil, herbs, vegetables and seafood, and have rich social lives. The new study, led by Swedish professor Olle Melander, will look at why people here live so much longer than average. It starts with research to compare the diets, lifestyles, blood and intestinal bacteria of people from Cilento with that of people from Malmö in southern Sweden.

The next phase will see 200 people from the region swap lives with 200 people from Malmö for three months. Host families will help the visitors live and eat like locals during their stay, and the researchers will study the effects on the participants’ health and longevity.

According to Melander, the study will try to identify ‘what the people of the Cilento region are doing right’ and ‘bring the lessons to Malmö residents, to help them live longer, healthier lives’.